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Thursday, April 19, 2007

Recent events in and around the intelligent design controversy

* The Complete Idiot's Guide to Understanding Intelligent Design. When I first heard about this book, I was afraid it would just be another jeremiad from the Church of Darwin (50 more ways to get it all wrong). But a friend tells me, it is actually quite good, and the table of contents leads me to hope so. Now that it has become obvious that intelligent design is not going away, there is a growing market for credible information on the subject. Bad news for combox morons, I guess.

* Textbook example of coevolution disputed: Something must be happening when Science Daily is wondering whether we need a "paradigm change":
It is commonly accepted that phytophagous beetles and their host plants (mainly the likewise speciose angiosperms or flowering plants) have radiated in concert since the origin of both groups in the early Cretaceous. Indeed, this is a text-book example of coevolution and a straightforward interpretation of the forces driving evolution and the rise of new species.

However, a new molecular study by Dr. Jesús Gómez-Zurita and collaborators in the Natural History Museum in London challenges this view. This study shows that at least in the leaf beetles (Chrysomelidae; 40,000 species) this association is apparently out of sync. A time-calibrated phylogenetic tree based on three genes of ribosomal RNA and the most extensive sampling of leaf beetle species to date shows that the phylogenies of both groups, beetles and plants, are neither congruent, nor are they contemporaneous.
Apparently, it is more "sophisticated" than was formerly thought.

* Famous fossil "Lucy" not direct ancestor of humans? According to anthropologists,
Tel Aviv University anthropologists say they have disproven the theory that "Lucy" - the world-famous 3.2-million-year-old Australopithecus afarensis skeleton found in Ethiopia 33 years ago - is the last ancestor common to humans and another branch of the great apes family known as the "Robust hominids."

The specific structure found in Lucy also appears in a species called Australopithecus robustus. Prof. Yoel Rak and colleagues at the Sackler School of Medicine's department of anatomy and anthropology wrote, "The presence of the morphology in both the latter and Australopithecus afarensis and its absence in modern humans cast doubt on the role of [Lucy] as a common ancestor."


* Red square nebula discovered:

If symmetry is a sign of splendor, then the newly discovered Red Square nebula is one of the most beautiful objects in the universe. Seen in the infrared, the nebula resembles a giant, glowing red box in the sky, with a bright white inner core. A dying star called MWC 922 is located at the system's center and spewing its innards from opposite poles into space. (A nebula is an interstellar cloud of gas, dust and plasma where stars can both emerge and die.) "This spectacular event is the death of a star," said study team member James Lloyd of Cornell University.After MWC 922 ejects most of its material into space, it will contract into a dense stellar corpse known as a white dwarf, shrouded by clouds of its own remains. The Red Square nebula discovery is detailed in the April 13 issue of the journal Science.


* Turkish Muslim ID supporter Mustafa Akyol has an informative article in First Things on the way in which secularists in Turkey drive the persecution of Christians. He tells me in a recent note that the secularists are also committed Darwinists:
Yes, of course, those secularists are passionately materialist and Darwinian, too... One notable guy who asks for a military coup to "save the secular republic" is Turkey's most prominent Darwinian, whom I challanged for a debate. He is Dr. Celal ŞSengör, a geologist... Recently an army general said, "secularism is in danger, even Darwin is being questioned." The general is Tuncer Kilinc, who was one of the architects of the secularist Feb 28 1998 "soft coup". He mentioned "the questioning of Darwin", as one of the signs showing that secularism is in danger in Turkey.
My goodness. Whatever is the world coming to?
Here is a Turkish column about it.

* Here's an argument for adding Darwinism to the medical curriculum despite students' reluctance.
Ironically, the hardest task in adding evolutionary/Darwinian medicine to medical curricula may well be soliciting support from medical students. Although Paul O'Higgins thought a comparison of the brachial plexus to the pentadactyl limb was helpful, not all his students agreed—complaints were lodged that he was forcing evolution on them. That lack of support was also reflected in the participation of only three medical students at the York meeting (albeit enthusiastic ones), despite being widely publicized. It is not clear whether this is because medical students are more overburdened than most or because of a more deep-rooted resistance to the subject, reflecting wider political and religious prejudice against evolution. But evolutionary medicine isn't and shouldn't be controversial, and the best way to challenge prejudice is through education.
In the context, I wonder what "education" means? "Recite this creed or you fail?" The most likely reason medical students find little use for Darwinism is apparent in the story. It doesn't really help them much with real-world patients.

* In "The Age of Darwin", David Brooks reflects,
Once the Bible shaped all conversation, then Marx, then Freud, but today Darwin is everywhere.

Scarcely a month goes by when Time or Newsweek doesn’t have a cover article on how our genes shape everything from our exercise habits to our moods. Science sections are filled with articles on how brain structure influences things like lust and learning. Neuroscientists debate the existence of God on the best-seller lists, while evolutionary theory reshapes psychology, dieting and literary criticism. Confident and exhilarated, evolutionary theorists believe they have a universal framework to explain human behavior.

[ ... ]

According to this view, human beings, like all other creatures, are machines for passing along genetic code. We are driven primarily by a desire to perpetuate ourselves and our species.
. You have to sign in for this article, which is an interesting and quite supportive look at the sheer vulgarity of the materialism that now drives popular culture.
If you want to understand why the intelligent design controversy cannot go away, read By Design or by Chance?.

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